Monsters vs. Aliens – Animated Film Review

This uber-high-concept piece of computer-generated animation is so good-natured that you want to like it, but it is not nearly so all-fired exciting and funny as it intends to be. Fortunately, if you can forgive the slow start and the occasionally lax pacing, you will be rewarded with enough great moments and old-movie references to justify your time in the theatre, especially if you are a fan of old monster movies. The title may suggest that 20th Century Fox has given up on the PREDATOR VS. ALIENS franchise in favor of pitting the H.R. Giger inspired Aliens against the cute character’s of Pixar’s MONSTERS, INC., but in fact this is a family-friendly spoof that goes for laughs instead of thrills. The tone is a bit less sophisticated than other recent CG films; unlike WALL-E, MONSTERS VS. ALIENS seems deliberately aimed at children.Fortunately, this yields some interesting dividends, as DreamWorks foregoes the contemptuous wisecracks meant to make the SHREK series appeal to “hip” teens and young adults, in favor of approving nods to classic and cult sci-fi films that will fly over the heads of children but engendered laughter in the parents, who grew up watching “Monster Chiller Horror Theatre” on television.

A meteor lands in the U.S. swelling bride-to-be Susan (Reese Witherspoon) to 50-Foot-Woman size. The military locks her up with a handful of other monsters until an evil alien overlord comes looking for the meteor, whose power he wants to harness. This leads to a showdown between Earth’s monsters and the alien invaders. Along the way, Susan adjust to her new identify as “Ginormica” and learns that her new friends are more loyal and worthy than the career-obsessed fiance who abandoned her.

MONSTERS VS. ALIENS is not likely to keep anyone at Pixar and/or Disney up late at night; it is no match for their best efforts. But the premise inevitably yields scenes and situations that will have hard-core sci-fi geeks applauding in delight. The initial battle between the monsters and a colossal alien robot is a memorable set-piece that ranks alongside the best giant-monster action ever presented on the big screen; the computer-generated imagery actually surpasses the overhyped excess of junk like TRANSFORMERS, and the animators deserve credit for perfectly using speed of movement to convey the impression of enormous size – something difficult to do without real humans in the frame.

The sequence is so good that it seems like a mistake to use it midway through, but the filmmakers are smart enough to offer another great sequence for the ending, invovling a battle aboard the alien invader’s spaceship; it’s not quite as visually stunning, but it serves as a satisfying climax.

Both scenes benefit enormously from the 3-D process, which is crisp and pleasing to the eye, almost as good as the work seen in BOLT. The impression of depth is very strong and (unlike old 3-D movies) there are no headaches caused by foreground and background images that refuse to integrate; everything is clear and shapr, not blurry, with no double-images. The attempt to make objects appear to be floating in mid-air is a little less effective – you know they are supposed to look as though they are hoovering in the middle of the theatre, but it does not quite come off.

The computerized animation of MONSTERS VS. ALIENS suffers from the usual problem when it comes to portraying human characters, who seem robotic, their expressions exaggerated and/or artificial, their moving features (eyebrows, lips) somehow seeming to somehow work independently from the face as a whole. the digital animation works much better for the monster and alien characters, especially the enormous Insectasaurus, who manages to look both massive and cute. The alien robot is also quite impressive: although this is the sort of film in which no threat can ever be taken truly seriously, the robot does convey the proper ominously sinister air.

The jokes are a bit hit and miss, but the homages to old monster movies would make for a good drinking game: if you knocked back a shot every time you saw one, you’d pass out long before the closing credits. You’ll see everything from ATTACK OF THE 50-FOOT WOMAN to CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND to E.T. to DESTROY ALL MONSTERS to THE FLY (1958, not 1986), THE BLOB (1957, not 1988), and most approrpiately for a 3-D film HOUSE OF WAX (in the form of a paddle ball that bounces out of the screen at the viewer’s nose).

As a whole, MONSTERS VS. ALIENS is a bit of a trifle, with an obvious message for the kids about not judging solely by appearances. Fortunately, it is less heavy-handed than recent live-action films that have travelled this terrain. MONSTERS VS. ALIENS man not be great, but it is more fun than either HELLBOY 2: THE GOLDEN ARMY or WATCHMEN.

Insectasaurs smashes the Golden Gate Bridge while atempting to confront alien invaders.

Insectasaurs smashes the Golden Gate Bridge while atempting to confront alien invaders.

MONSTERS VS. ALIENS (2009). Directed by Rob Letterman & Conrad Vernon. Screenplay by Maya Forbes & Wallace Wolodarsky and Rob LEtterman and Jonathan Aibel & Glenn Berger; story by Rob Letterman and Conrad Vernon. Voices: Reese Witherspoon, Seth Rogen, Hugh Laurie, Will Arnett, Kiefer Sutherland, Rainn Wilson, Stephen Colbert, Paul Rudd, Julie White, Jeffrey Tambor, Amy Poehler, Ed Helms, Renee Zellweger, John Krasinski.

About the Author

Steve Biodrowski

Cinefantastique's Los Angeles Correspondent from 1987 to 1993 and West Coast Editor from 1993 to 1999. Currently the webmaster of Cinefantastique Online, I also run a website called Hollywood Gothique that covers Halloween Horror and Sci-Fi Cinema Events in the Los Angeles area.

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